Follow the culinary adventures and misadventures of the Cooking Agents (Ray and Katie). Watch as we eat/cook our way into adulthood.
I know. I’m back and being slightly irresponsible. Krissie came home for the weekend though to keep me entertained through some of my break times. This spurred the following blog post. Krissie and I have been trying to make it a tradition to do Boston chef menus for our birthday. The first started for our 23rd birthday at O Ya, a Japanese restaurant hidden on the ever so small East Street in Boston’s Leather District. O Ya is owned by husband and wife Tim and Nancy Cushman. Tim, the executive chef, was an apprentice under the celebrated Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. It showed. At the time, a new addition to the kicthen that unfortunately was not there that night was sous chef, Tiffani Faison. You would probably recognize the name from Bravo’s hit TV show, Top Chef.
O Ya is cozy and personable. The dark wood and the high ceilings make for a somewhat ominous environment, but once your perky waitress steps in, you know all is fine and dandy. The restaurant seats only 37 (I meant it when I said cozy) and brings in a mixed crowd, all looking for a memorable experience and a delicious meal. My sister and I were lucky enough to nab seats at the sushi bar, enabling us to see each dish prepared start to finish. The sushi chefs are true masters. Between tasty bites, you can entertain yourself by watching the show right in front of you.
We started off our celebration right with glasses of poochi poochi sparkling sake. Before that night, I’d never had sparkling sake before. To be honest, I think sake is pretty gross. Then again, the times I have had it is at subpar sushi restaurants where I can see the sake bottle being heated in a microwave. Heated, it has a sometimes acrid flavor reminiscent of sweaty gym feet soaking in hot water. I apologize for that extremely unappetizing description. Please get over it and continue on! The poochi poochi was creamy, unfiltered richness. I’d never had sake like this before. My palate was intrigued.
The meal only got better. From this point on, I will only provide pictures of the food we ate. There are really no combination of words sufficient enough to capture the tastes. Even the most jaded of palates would have to agree. The menu is exciting. Tim Cushman is an artist. He knows when to kick it up a notch and when to administer self control and keep food simple and subtle. I leave you with the meal.
kumamoto oyster, watermelon pearls, cucumber mignonette
salmon tataki, torched tomato, smoked salt, onion aioli
hamachi, spicy banana pepper mousse / homemade la ratte potato chip and summer truffle
wild santa barbara spot prawn, garlic butter, white soy, preserved yuzu
wild bluefin tuna tataki, smoky picked onion, and truffle oil / wild bluefin chutoro, republic of georgia herb sauce
fried kumamoto oyster, yuzu kosho aioli, squid ink bubbles
shima aji, santa barbara sea urchin, ceviche vinaigrette
kyoto style enoki mushrooms, garlic, and soy
scottish salmon, spicy sesame ponzu, yuzu kosho, scallion oil
hamachi, viet mignonette, thai basil, shallot
chilled maine lobster salad, avocado, creamy yuzu dressing, peppercress, and cucumber gelee
seared petit strip loin with potato confit, sea salt, and white truffle oil
grilled sashimi of chanterelle & shiitake rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, and homemade soy / foie gras, balsamic choclate kabayaki, raisin cocoa pulp, w/ a sip of aged sake
raw chocolate gelato
The real piece de resistance is was the chutoro. Melt in your mouth is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, so please pardon my use of the sometimes overused and abused way of describing food. The tuna melted in my mouth. I wanted it to last longer. O Ya, price tag aside, was the craziest eating experience. Our waitress was informative, interactive, and just plain cute. She made our first chef’s tasting menu experience in Boston all the more special. Each plate was a more perfect bite than the last. Plus, my twinnie said it was the best present she’s ever gotten. That made my day and thus started our tradition of going big or going home.
Moving back home to NJ has left me immobile as I no longer have auto insurance. This means that I have to succumb to whatever food or dining options are thrown at me either at home or where ever my parents want to go. Over the last 6.5 years, I’ve been coming home less and less, which means less variety. My parents tend to have a steady rotation of the same Asian restaurants: Shanghai Bun (Taiwanese/noodles), West Lake (Cantonese/dim sum/seafood), Ruby Palace (cheap lunch specials), Crown Palace (Cantonese/dim sum), Szechuan Garden (Szechuan), and Coconut Forest (Malaysian). Sometimes we’ll take 20-30 minute trips to places like Penang (Malaysian), U-Yee (half price sushi), or a Japanese buffet of some sort.
The lack of new places to try in the suburbs leaves me missing city life, but at the same time familiarity is what makes going home so great. Yesterday, one of my friends wanted to try a new Korean and Japanese restaurant (let’s save the dual ethnic restaurant debate for another post). The restaurant is called Kimchi & Sushi and what makes it significant is that it’s one of the only Korean restaurants in the area. It is ironic how they replaced a Vietnamese restaurant that was one of the few Vietnamese restaurants in the area as well.
I’ve come a long way since I went to my first Korean restaurant in college by none other than Katie. I generally regarded Korean as my least favorite Asian cuisine behind Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Taiwanese. However, over the years kimchi has grown on me, and you can’t go wrong with tender marinated meats. Yesterday evening I graduated from Bulgogi, Kalbi, Jap Chae, and Korean BBQ to Stone Bowls.
Kalbi, Can’t Go Wrong
I ordered the Spicy Pork and Vegetable Stone Bowl, which was delivered in a piping hot stone bowl filled with rice and topped with the stir fried pork and vegetables. The hot bowl gave the rice a crispy texture and kept the dish hot for the duration of the entire meal. The meal also included some forgettable miso soup, and good kimchi, though I’m not an expert on kimchi. The Kalbi was tender and flavorful, and I could just eat the sauce with rice any day. The prices were mixed with some Korean dishes as low as $6.95, while most of the popular dishes were in the $13.95-$22.95 range. A majority of the menu were Japanese dishes/sushi, but we didn’t bother to try that out since we have a couple of go to restaurants for that in the area already.
Pork and Vegetables Stir Fried Over Rice in a Hot Stone Bowl
Kimchi and Sushi was a nice addition to the Asian restaurant scene in Monmouth County, NJ, and I would gladly return. I even presented my mom with a card hoping that she will welcome it into her short list of acceptable restaurants. If it’s not Asian cuisine, my mom has a tendency to order either chicken tenders or seafood. She’s just that Asian. Kimchi and Sushi, make me proud.
OOO EEE OOO, Killer Tofu
On Thursday, I had my goodbye happy hour at PF Chang’s after one of the office standbys Lia’s looked like there was dinner service in the bar area. This also happened to be my first time at PF Chang’s, and I was glad to finally give upscale Chinese American food a try. With a couple of bottles of PBR and PF Chang’s signature chicken lettuce wraps, I was able to go home to a blacked out, cold apartment full and warm. I am personally a fan of Cheesecake Factory and PF Chang’s earned some points in my booked as the Asian equivalent.
After my last day at work, I had dinner with a friend and former co-worker at The General Store. This also helped me knock off my last coupon. The General Store certainly lived up to the term “hole in the wall,” though “hole in the middle of the woods” would also be accurate. At one point I was accused of directing my friends in to the middle of the woods to kill her. Opps? The restaurant was a converted post office and was featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives like Comet Ping Pong, but was able to deliver on a good meal. We both ordered the Fried Chicken Dinner with Mac n Cheese. The meal also came with two pieces of cornbread. We followed with a large slice of Lemon Chess Pie. One thing to keep in mind is that the fried chicken is first fried and then baked, so it may not be as hot. The pie was easily the star of the meal. If you have a car and want a mini-adventure to the suburbs, I would give The General Store a shot.
Fried Chicken Dinner and Lemon Chess Pie from The General Store
Saturday was originally suppose to be move out day, but now that I had an extra day to pack, I decided to hit up Bethesda at some places I never got the chance to visit. For lunch, I had a Double Double (sandwich with two kinds of meat and cole slaw) at Uptown Deli. Given that this was a new Jewish deli, I selected pastrami and brisket. Both were good though I wish the pastrami would have been cut thicker and the brisket more tender. However, Uptown deli was a huge upgrade over the now gone Morty’s Deli two Red Line stops away.
For dinner, I hit up Hinata Sushi Carry Out. Hinata is a small (really small) Japanese grocery store with 3 aisles less than 10 feet long with a Sushi counter in the back. One convenient note is that they sell sushi grade fish by the pound, which I felt bad for not being able to utilize sooner although $40/lbs of fish doesn’t really help you save even if you are eating at home. The sushi was somewhat disappointing, though rolls were under $5. I would recommend ordering one of the preset sushi platters rather than ordering a la carte. In addition, I was able to pick up a couple of Japanese snacks like Almond Pocky and a Lychee drink.
Sushi from Hinata and Brunch at Cafe Deluxe
Ironically, my final meal in the DC area was brunch (with women) at Cafe Deluxe. Although this was my suggestion due to the fact that my parents would be arriving around lunch. We each ordered the Deluxe breakfast that came with scrambled eggs, bacon, home fries, and a biscuit. The breakfast was good, but the eggs and home fries lacked any seasoning, so a couple dashes of salt were required, but overall a great meal to fuel me for the move.
I think that for as much as I knocked DC, I’ll still look back with enough good memories. The food culture has grown for the better in the last 2.5 years with the addition of Obama and Sam Kass, an influx of celebrity chef restaurants, burger/cupcake/frozen yogurt/food truck boom mixed with DC’s own staples (Ethiopian, soul food, Ben’s Chili Bowl, steakhouses) and local chefs (Michel Richard, Michael Landrum). I hope that I won’t be missing out on too much of the action, but I am eager to get reacquainted with the best of New England. So good bye DC, it’s been real, but you still have a ways to go before you’re among the elite dining cities.
This afternoon, I departed the Washington DC metro area back home to NJ before I ship up to Boston next weekend. While I was sad leaving a lot of people behind, I sure as hell enjoyed the dining farewell tour (mostly dictated by my remaining Groupons). I ate at the Morrison Clark Inn, Sticky Rice, Dangerously Delicious Pies, Kinkead’s, Comet Ping Pong, Zentan, Meskerem, PF Chang’s, The General Store, Uptown Deli, Hinata Sushi Carryout and Cafe Deluxe.
Morrison Clark Inn was hoppin’, and by that I mean for the 40+ crowd. I was definitely feeling out of place. There was only one other table with a younger couple. The food was decent, but pricey, so the value was lacking. The Striped Bass with Tarragon Fennel, Potato Risotto, and Butter Nut Coulis was rich and comforting. The crispy skin on the offering a nice salty contrast to the risotto and coulis swimming in butter.
I’ve decided that Sticky Rice should be seen less as a restaurant and more of bar with inventive food. Purists would cry foul at a lot of the special house rolls, but a lot of the items on the menu would make a great bar snack or meal. The atmosphere far outweighs the food. Dangerously Delicious Pies was located nearby Sticky Rice so I thought it’d be nice to finally get around to try a slice. A whole pie runs about $30 here so I was hesitant to invest in an entire pie when I’ve seen them at the nearby farmers’ market. I tried the Baltimore Bomb, which includes melted sandwich cookies that’s mixed into a vanilla chess pie. I liked what I was tasting, but I’ve had better pie at a lower cost.
Sticky Scallops and Samurai Shrimp
During my farewell tour, DC restaurant week and Bethesda-Chevy Chase restaurant week decided to try and mess up my financials, but I was strong enough to show restraint and only dined once at Kinkead’s for the RW menu. I had the Grilled Squid with Tomato Fondue, Pesto and Creamy Polenta for an appetizer (good), Crusted Hake with Mushroom Duxelle, Potato Gnocchi and Porcini Cream (excellent), and Strawberry Almond Cake with Lemon Bavarian and Strawberry Sauce (excellent). I’m extremely excited for Sibling Rivalry in Boston.
Grilled Squid with Tomato Fondue, Pesto and Creamy Polenta
Crusted Hake with Mushroom Duxelle, Potato Gnocchi and Porcini Cream
Strawberry Almond Cake with Lemon Bavarian and Strawberry Sauce
Comet Ping Pong left a lot to be desired. the toppings were bare on The Smokey (smokey mushrooms, smokey mozzarella, smokey bacon, melted onions, and garlic) and Yalie (clams, garlic, melted onions, thyme, Parmesan, lemon) suffered from a soggy crust. The wings and meatball apps were also not up to par. The restaurant’s food seems to suffer as a result of focusing on the bar and atmosphere rather than execution in the kitchen.
Zentan met my expectations as Susar Lee’s performance on Top Chef Masters drove me to make a trip out to Logan Circle. The sushi chef recommended the Escolar Crudo (excellent) and I ordered the half serving of the Singapore Slaw (excellent). The Carmelized Black Cod was good, but small and pricey ($26 for 4 2 bite piece s of fish). Paying $4 for a bowl of jasmine rice was highway robbery as well.
Meserkem was my first time trying Ethiopian food and it was quite disappointing, we ordered a beef and vegetarian (cabbage, potato, carrot) Sambussa both good (because they are fried) and a sampler (Meskerem Messob) of a few dishes (bland, luke warm). Next time I’m having Ethiopian food, it’s going to have to be with a seasoned expert.